Making Your Home Safe for Toddlers

Can you give me some basic tips and pointers for "child-proofing" my house? Our toddler is highly energetic, extremely curious and unbelievably mobile. I'm wearing myself out just chasing her from room to room, trying to keep her from hurting herself.

The normal – and necessary – process of development and advancing motor skills will create extra work and worry for everyone in your toddler’s life. Explorations should be encouraged, but they will inevitably require some adjustment of your living arrangements.

As in so many areas of parenting, the guiding principle here is the need for balance. You’ll have to weigh your child’s healthy curiosity against his need for a safe environment and your need for some semblance of order. Try to avoid extremes. For example, confining a child in a playpen for hours on end might be convenient for grown-ups, but it will restrict the flow of enriching information to your toddler’s developing brain. On the other hand, giving a child unlimited access to all parts of the home without some thoughtful preparation is an invitation to harm and disaster. Furthermore, attempting to train a child at this age by subjecting him to a non-stop torrent of no’s and hand-slapping when he’s merely trying to find out what’s what in the world will make everyone miserable and exhausted. Here are some reasonable toddler-proofing measures that should spare you a lot of toil and grief.

    1. Take a child’s-eye-view tour of whatever living space you plan to make available to your toddler. Look for top-heavy items that might fall if pushed or pulled, electrical cords or outlets (plastic plugs can used to block unused outlets) and small objects lying around that might cause choking if swallowed. This last point is especially important if you have older kids at home whose toys and games tend to have lots of tiny parts and pieces that get scattered around the house. How about cords attached to draperies and blinds? These should be looped or tied on a hook well out of the child’s reach.


    1. Don’t leave your prized china or other valuables where a newly mobile baby can get to them. He will have no concept of the difference between a cup made by Wedgwood and one brought home from Wendy’s. Your expensive collectibles should be displayed (or stored) out of reach during this season of your child’s life.


    1. Take extra-special care in the kitchen. Relocate cleaning compounds and other chemicals to higher ground. Sharp objects, which are of course abundant in kitchens, must also be kept away from toddlers. If you have an automatic dishwasher, be sure to keep the door latched when you’re not loading or unloading it. Many families set aside a low cupboard for “baby’s kitchen stuff” – a collection of old plastic bowls, cups, spoons and other safe unbreakables that a child can examine and manipulate to his heart’s content. It might be a good idea to equip the rest of your cupboards with plastic safety latches.


    1. If at all possible, bathrooms should probably be kept off-limits. Like kitchens, they are full of potential hazards: medications, cleaners and, most important, bodies of water. Never leave a baby unattended in the bath, even at this age, and be certain to empty the tub as soon as you’re done with it. Open toilets are also an irresistible destination for curious young cruisers. You’re probably wise to keep the bathroom door shut at all times to prevent unsupervised entry. If an enterprising explorer learns to turn door handles, an additional high latch may be needed.


    1. Survey your home for “what’s hot and what’s not.” Radiators, heaters, floor furnace grills and fireplace screens can all become surprisingly hot. A protective barrier may be needed to protect little fingers from these surfaces at certain times of the year. Be sure the handles of pots on hot burners don’t extend over the edge of the stove. You can also buy safety covers for stove handles at a hardware store. Set your hot-water heater temperature below 120 degrees Fahrenheit to minimize the risk of an accidental scald from the tap.


  1. Finally, infants and toddlers can be quite adept at doing some impressive pruning on your prized houseplants if they’re within reach. A more worrisome possibility is that your child may choose to sample the leaves and stems, which may be irritating to the lining of the mouth or even overtly toxic. Now is the time to move the plants out of reach, unless you know for certain that they are nontoxic and you don’t care if they get mangled. To keep explorer out of the dirt at the base of any plants remaining at floor level, you can cover the soil with screen mesh.

Remember: there is no substitute for parental vigilance. Fixed barriers between child and hazard are helpful and important, but you cannot anticipate every possible risk without turning your home into a padded cell. So keep a sharp lookout. This may sound like a pain, but from your perspective it’s the price of childrearing – at least for the time being.

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Focus on the Family Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care

John Rosemond: Parenting with Love and Leadership

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